DENVER- Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly wore a wide grin when describing Spanish forward Juancho Hernangomez after selecting him with the 19th overall pick in last month’s draft.
“He’s a two-position guy, a modern day stretch four,” Connelly said on draft night. “He can slide over and defend three’s. He’s from a basketball family…another high I.Q. guy, another tireless worker. We’re looking forward to having him in the fold.”
But not even Connelly, whose praise for Hernangomez has privately expanded far beyond those comments, could have known what kind of performance the 20-year-old would put on during his first taste of NBA action during Denver’s summer league season this month.
In Las Vegas, Hernangomez, who has played professional basketball in one of the world’s best leagues for four years, often looked like a man among boys. He showed a tremendous motor and ability to create space on the offensive end and drive to the hoop. On defense, he stayed tough around the rim and displayed an uncanny ability to find the ball and come down with critical rebounds.
During his first five games wearing NBA colors, Hernangomez averaged 10.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.8 assists. Yet, the statistics don’t paint an accurate picture of just how dominant he was at times.
Hernangomez’s play both in summer league and overseas, where he’s averaged 5.5/3.7/0.4 during his career, has created somewhat of a problem for Nuggets brass. However, it’s a pretty good problem to have.
With four total draft picks this year and a roster already stocked-full of young talent, almost no one expected Hernangomez to play in the NBA in 2016. Even Hernangomez himself was unsure where he was going when Denver drafted him.
“I don’t know yet,” Hernangomez said. “I don’t know what will happen this summer and then next year. I want to keep working and I don’t know where.”
The common sentiment was that Hernangomez represented a classic “Draft-and-stash” player for the Nuggets. They would let him continue to play in Europe for a year or so until he was ready for NBA action.
However, if his workouts with the team and his performance in summer league are any indication, he is ready now.
According to sources, Hernangomez impressed team officials so much that they are strongly considering giving him a spot on the Nuggets’ 15-man roster when the season kicks-off in the last week of October.
The question, then, becomes where exactly he would fit on this already young Denver Nuggets squad. As of today, he could potentially find himself fourth in the team’s rotation at power forward, and at-best third in line if head coach Michael Malone wanted him to play center during stretches of small-ball.
There are certainly things that could change between now and the start of training camp to open up space for Hernangomez. Most notably, a trade involving Kenneth Faried, which has been rumored to be in the works for months, could open up a roster spot and potentially an extra 5-10 minutes a night for the youngster.
Barring something like that, Connelly and company are faced with a difficult question. Is Hernangomez better off getting 5-7 minutes every couple of nights in Denver, or starter’s minutes in Europe?
It certainly isn’t as easy as it sounds.
In the past, Connelly has shown a willingness to bring players from Europe to the states quickly if he felt they were ready to play. In this case, Connelly doesn’t seem certain either way.
“We’re not closing either or,” Connelly said. “He’ll either be here ASAP or he’ll be here a year from now. We’ve got no decision made. It will be easy to do either or. All parties are on the same page.”
The Nuggets have just over two months before the start of training camp to make a decision.
Headline courtesy Jeff Morton of denverstiffs.com